Emmy Noether

By: Deb Chachra
March 23, 2011

Want to feel like an overpaid slacker? EMMY NOETHER (1882-1935), considered one of the most significant mathematicians of the 20th century, worked for the majority of her career without pay; she was famous for her devotion to mathematics and her students, and her indifference to most everything else. Noether was famed for her ability to abstract and simplify concepts; her research bore fruit in a dozen different mathematical fields, including laying the groundwork for algebraic topology (the study, briefly, of what is unchanged when something is deformed). Mathematicians might quibble, but to physicists, Noether’s crowning contribution is her eponymous theorem, which relates the symmetry of systems to conservation laws (e.g., conservation of energy or angular momentum). Noether’s Theorem turned out to be a fundamental pillar of modern theoretical physics, though it was initially devised in response to a major problem with general relativity. Einstein’s response? “The old guard at [the University of] Göttingen should take some lessons from Miss Noether! She seems to know her stuff.” Fifteen years after she started teaching, Göttingen finally offered Noether a salaried position, which she held for a decade; but in 1933, when Hitler came to power, Noether was one of scores of Jewish faculty who found their professorships revoked. She took a position at Bryn Mawr, but died 18 months later.

Noether (front) in 1931


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Erich Fromm.

READ MORE about members of the Psychonauts Generation (1874-83).


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